Grasshopper Old Caz: The Revenge

50 miles on a CX bike. What’s the worst that could happen?

Last year, in search of a “favorite race of the year,” or even a “best day on the bike, ever,” I set off on the legendary Old Cazadero edition of the Grasshopper Adventure Series (the most prestigious Not-A-Race series in the world). Things didn’t go well. John crashed on the descent from Duncans Mills, in what became known as the Ditch of Doom, and we ended up limping back to the start along the most direct (paved) route. I made some new friends that day (sup Dans!) but I didn’t get what I expected out of the ride. As if it was possible, this year’s edition would have to live up to even higher standards–Firstly, it would have to satisfy the image I had built up, but perhaps more importantly, I would actually have to finish this year.

And so, the story continues… Starting at 5:45 in the morning, again. Even though the ‘hoppers have a very civilized start time of 10am, they are also very far away from the South Bay. The team bus was set to leave San Francisco at 8 o’clock sharp, so I made the plan to be at John’s house by 7 to pick him up. Everything went to plan, and I was on the team bus with no problems.

“I don’t know if you’ve done this ride before…” Brue said, pausing to take a bite out of a delicious-looking egg and avacado bagel sandwich. “But it’s pretty relentless. Bonking here, you don’t want it to happen to you.” Turns out the secret to success is two dinners AND two breakfasts. I bought a bagel at the gas station, and bummed some pumpkin bread off of John.

We made it to Occidental on time, thanks to Murph’s touge-bus-driving skills. We unloaded the bus, suited up, and I rolled to the back of the pack for the start.

Wait a second, why’s Levi Leipheimer here at the back of the pack?

#1: Old CazPhoto: Kim Dow. Normal-sized human pictured for comparison.

Oh right, they changed the route this year – The start went in the opposite direction. That’s the front. After I shuffled my way to the middle of the back to join my teammates, it wasn’t long until we were rolling. One stop sign and right turn later, and the pack (280 strong, from what I heard) hit the climb up Coleman Valley Road. I don’t know how steep it is in reality, but on cold legs it was a hell of a wakeup call. I was running uncomfortably close to redline and trying to maintain a sedate pace up the climb, there was enough riding ahead that I really wanted to pace myself. But the climb was a good idea – It thinned out the pack considerably at the start, which was much safer than having 300 cyclists descending in a pack right at the start (see: last year).

At the top of Coleman Valley, things got dirty and downhill, really fast. At this point, John, Ted, and I were riding together. I had formed a plan with Derrick to ride with him and Ted for the duration of the ride, as we’re fairly closely matched. But I had made a pact with John to stay with him the whole day no matter what else happened. Finishing this shit was important, to both of us! In fact, the ride had taken its first casualty of the day at a ditch on top of Willow Creek – I saw a crashed rider sitting on the side of the trail. He was already being attended to by other riders, so I only slowed down a bit. Later, I heard that he had snapped his frame (and a bone). Damn.

It wasn’t long till Derrick passed me, while Ted was already bombing the hill up ahead on his monstercross rig from the start. I told Derrick I was going to wait up for John on the descent as I continued to pick my way down the sweeping dirt corners of Willow Creek. At what seemed like the bottom, I pulled off the road to wait for John, and came across none other than Dan, the missing (participating) member of our impromptu team from last year. After some catching up, (“What? You haven’t ridden your mountain bike yet this year?” – Dan) John rolled by, and the two of us were off again towards PCH.

The last, flat part of Willow Creek was the wettest part of the ride – Lots of gravelly puddles. I called it the Strada Bianca part of the ride, accurately or not. PCH took us to River Road, which we would then take East to the foot of Duncan Road. River Road was the longest nicely-paved section of the course, so it’s very advantageous to get some help from your friends there. As we started a mild climb, we caught up to the pink tires of none other than (The Original F-ing) Sam Bell. We had a pretty good team going on the road at this point, or so I thought, until a freaking freight train rolled by – Two tandem teams towing a mess of other riders. “Should we get on?” Asked John. You bet your ass we did. Latching onto the tandems was the best thing we did – It made the stretch of pavement leading to Duncan Road pass by effortlessly, and would provide valuable help on the next few turns, because these tandem drivers knew where the hell they were going…

Our group, on the first leg of River Rd.
Photo: Morgan Fletcher (who was far, far, ahead of me – This is just for reference)

At the bottom of Duncan, John and I launched off the back of the tandem team and began the climb. It was as steep as last year, and my gearing was higher this year, but I was stronger too, so I soldiered on. But what was really surprising was that with John’s single-ring (with a 32t cassette) setup, he was riding away from me up the hills.  It turns out that a 240-mile training camp the previous week (or any training, for that matter) does have an affect. We passed the summit of Duncan Road and started the descent. Now, this was a critical spot last year. I let John take the lead, as we both cautiously rode the non-dramatic part of the descent, around some sweeping dirty corners. Then, John let me pass right before oh shit it’s the ditch.

A year later, and it’s still sketchy, I tell you. Last year I rode it without issue because I didn’t know it was coming and let instinct take over. This year I knew it was coming, went slow, and actually had a hilarious slo-mo crash in the exact same spot that John did last year. He came around the corner just in time to see me ass over teakettle with an upside-down bike. It was magnificent. I was up just in time to catch the Tandem Train as it pulled into ditch station, and departed for Old Cazadero Road through a series of turns that I would have definitely missed otherwise.

Whew, I sure sat on the draft of this post for a while… Like, more than a month! Let’s finish this up all quick-like by compressing the remaining majority of the ride into one paragraph, then pressing “Publish!”

The rest of the ride went fine, except that somehow Sam lost an entire front brake pad, post and all, and had to abort via the safest route back. John and I soldiered on and re-attached to an ever-growing group leading up to the last stretch of River Road back to Willow Creek. It was then that riding the CX bike paid dividends… MEGA paceline up River Road, culminating in a monster pull wherein I tried to regain some self-respect for the day. At the bottom of Willow Creek, I thought I still had some gas in the tank, and was already looking forward to how I might ride faster in future installments of the ride. What I didn’t realize was that Willow Creek will remove any gas left in that tank in short order. When I hobbled to the top a half hour later, I had nothing left. THE END!

Here’s the Strava.
Here’s me at the finish, with a bike that had become so creaky that I haven’t ridden it since this post/ride was started, six weeks ago:

Mountaintop finish at Willow Creek

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One Response to Grasshopper Old Caz: The Revenge

  1. Pingback: Cyclocross 2011: The Bitter End (Race Report Roundup #4) | Slonie

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